The news cuts to a press conference. A severe woman grips the edges of the podium. Elena Prince, I presume. She’s got no mirth on her face, malevolent or otherwise. The only thing she shares with Tim Prince is a vague sibling resemblance. A man waits behind her, dressed in a nice suit, his hands folded behind him. He looks like Tim, I’ll admit, only far older and more built. I’m guessing that’s Senator Prince.
Elena clears her throat. “My father will have more to say, but Tim has done something unforgivable. FIS told us they’ll be organizing a manhunt with OPI. I will help bring my brother to justice as Snow Owl and take my place in the Harris Hawks again. Thank you.” She steps away from the podium.
“Who?” Bedevil asks.
“She used to be a big damn hero back in the day. She retired right after Doc and I moved here… sometime in 2048? Five years ago or so.” I tell her. “I don’t know much about her team, but she could fly and had some ice powers. I think Gyrfalcon was also on her team.”
“She said FIS is putting together a manhunt,” Bedevil says.
“With OPI, which means you might be sent on it.”
Bedevil nods. “I’ll twist his head off like a bottle cap, if that makes you feel any better.”
I am reminded of our very first meeting, when she completely decapitated that gar-girl. I imagine the same thing happening to Tim. “… a little.”
She contemplates her juice for a moment. Then, she says, “It’s good, right? It means you can focus on getting your friend back.”
The thought of letting FIS handle this chafes me. Despite that, I’d be a fool not to let them. They can’t do anything but disavow Tim Prince at this point, they have to cover up their mistake. They’ll put an end to it. We forced their hand. Especially if capes from OPI are involved. “Yeah, it is good. We can get Flash. Pandahead is finished. For now.” That makes me feel better. He can’t do anything but run, now. He didn’t really win, he just delayed the inevitable.
He’ll pay for murdering those kids. After I get Flashfire, I’m going after him myself if they haven’t already caught him. I doubt his sister will be able to deal the final blow, anyway.
We arrive at the Third Ward, exit the sky-rail, and take the short walk back to my place. The entire time I’m trying to figure out how to sell Bedevil helping me out to Doc and how to get back in touch with my friends.
Bedevil studies my apartment block with soberish eyes for the first time. “God, what a dump.”
“Sorry I don’t live in a castle in the sky, like someone around here.”
Bedevil mumbles something and then finishes off her juice. I decide not to pursue that one.
We climb the stairs, one step at a time, and I’m still trying to work out what to say to Doc. I fumble with my keys outside the door, thumbing through each individual key I own, all three of them.
“What’s taking so long?” Bedevil asks.
The door swings open. Epione grins at me, her makeup smeared all over her face.“Gabe!” She throws her arms around me. “Oh my God, I thought you’d died!” She steps back just as fast as she pounced on me, straightening out her chest armor. She’s still in all of her gear.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay, I’m okay. What are you doing here?”
Epione nods. “We went exactly where you told us! Remember? Go back to my apartment, you said.”
Right, I vaguely recall that. “Is everyone okay? Where’s Maisa?”
“She wanted to go help Lugs and Mil-dot,” Epione says. “We sent them back to my house to get some of my funds, that way we have money for a while.”
I worry for a moment about her going off with them. She’s a capable girl, so I turn my attention to the injured. “Is Saw Off okay?”
Drone walks up behind Epione. “Hoped Doc could take her wounds, but he couldn’t. He’s just patching her up regular style, now. Who’s your friend?”
Epione registers Bedevil for the first time. Her eyes pop open. “That’s… that’s Bedevil.”
Drone cocks an eyebrow. “Inheritors Bedevil?”
“Yes, Inheritors Bedevil,” I say. “Kitsune. You’ve met her.”
“The same Inheritors Bedevil that destroyed the Santos hideout and cost us valuable information?” Drone asks.
“Oh boy,” Bedevil says.
I better get a handle on this situation. “We worked out our differences. She’s going to help us get Flashfire back.”
Epione, without provocation, throws her arms around Bedevil. “Oh my goodness, thank you! Thank you!”
Drone eyes me suspiciously. I’m guessing we’ll have words later. Right now, I walk into my apartment to survey the situation.
Bloody hand prints cover the walls, the counter, just about every surface someone could put a hand on, even the carpet. The delicious smell of baking cookies wafts over this grisly sight.
Remise is laid up on the couch, her right side covered in white bandages. Some of the skin beneath the white gauze is red, the skin warped and cracked.
“Remise! Are you okay?” I ask.
“Moi?” she says, leaning up. She grunts a little. “I’m fine. One of those guards got a good lick in with some kind of napalm power, but we took care a’ him.”
Saw Off screams in my room.
“Oh, no,” I say.
An alarm clock crashes into the bathroom door, ejected from my room like Saw Off shot it out her nose. I run in, hoping to stop whatever’s going on. Doc runs into me, trying to escape from her wrath, and nearly falls back. “Gabe! Why would you send them here?!”
I grab his arms to steady him, and keep him from falling over. “Hey! What the hell is going on?”
Doc closes the door before Saw Off can throw more of my junk at him. “Besides the destruction of property? The girl your friends brought needed urgent care.” He shakes his head. “What the hell happened, Gabe?”
“A lot,” I say. “Is she going to be okay?”
“I can hear you talking about me!” Saw Off shouts, her voice hoarse. Something thumps against the door.
“Just fine.” Doc scowls. “I told her she needed to be on bed rest for a few days. Are you okay?”
“You gave away my bed?” I ask.
“For a few days. Are you injured?”
“But… it’s my bed.”
“Well, just crash wherever you crashed last night, or on the couch. And answer my damn question.”
“I’m okay! Not injured, I think, and Remise is on the couch.”
“So, wherever you crashed last night,” Doc says. “You’re sure you’re not injured?”
The idea of staying with Bedevil makes me extremely uncomfortable, given what happened between us. Even if we are being friendly, staying with her is a big deal.
I nod. “I saw… something… last night. Did Megajoule ever talk about the Fear?”
Doc furrows his brow. “He talked about fear in general. Nothing that earned a the before the name.” He rubs his chin. “He did speak about a fear, but I don’t think I had clearance enough to know about the Fear.”
“Maybe it’s in his videos, somewhere. He tried to tell me about it once, but someone else cut him off,” I say.
I look back at Bedevil, where Epione and Drone are in the middle of an interrogation. Epione looks happy, Drone suspicious. Epione laughs and hugs Bedevil again. “I can’t believe you’d want to help us!”
“You brought her back? Reunion go well, then?” Doc asks.
“Not a reunion, and well enough she wants to help us get Flashfire out of FIS holding.”
Doc snorts. “Good luck with that.”
The smell of baked sweets hits my nostrils again. “Are you making cookies?”
“Epione is,” Doc says. “Says they’ll be delicious.”
I return to the living room. “You guys done playing twenty questions yet? We need to get a move on.”
“Oh, too bad,” Bedevil says, nervous laughter leaking out of her like a bad faucet. “We were just on past flings.”
Welp, time to steer my friends far away from that topic. “Time’s a wasting. We need to find Flash.”
“I’ve called Iso and some of the other masks to help us start that,” Drone says. “I’m going to try and find a way into FIS’ networks to see if I can start shaking branches. They can’t have taken him very far.”
“Okay,” I say. “Bedevil, could you sneak Drone into FIS?”
Bedevil looks flabbergasted by the request. “Um, what?”
“She’s a machine telepath, she can project her mind into your cell phone, or we could give you one of the watches-”
“I’m not making another watch for her,” Drone says.
“So the cell phone,” I continue. Drone glares at Bedevil. I think she’s picked up on the awkward air between us, which is not good. She knows about our break up but I don’t think she knows about the sex. Still, you can’t hide that shit from your work wife, no way no how. “We put her mind in your phone and you carry that into FIS. Would that work, Drone?”
“Okay, hang on, I can’t just go with this anymore,” Drone says. “We’re trusting her? She’s OPI! She’s a cape and she’s frankly done more damage than good for us!”
Bedevil looks to me for support. She can’t muster any words in her defense.
“She wants to help us,” I say. “We’ve sorted that out for now.”
“Yeah, and why does she want to help us?” Drone asks. “How do you know she isn’t gaming us to bring us in? Or are we just supposed to trust she’s doing this because you look like Megajoule?”
Bedevil recoils from that remark. She retreats, walks toward the door.
“Drone, we both know there are way worse reasons to help the Underground,” I say. “I had nowhere else to go, and neither did you. So get off your fucking high horse and trust me.”
Drone glares at me, and I’m reminded of a bull about to run a matador down.
“Yeah, maybe she is helping because I look like Megajoule.” I shake my head. “To be honest, that just makes me trust her more than some masks I’ve never met.”
Bedevil stops, reaches for the door knob but falls short.
“Cookies!” Epione shouts, opening the oven. She puts them onto the counter. She makes for a strange sight: she’s dressed in her black armor, sans the mask, her make-up is a mess, either from crying or from sweat (though I’ve never seen Epione cry) and now she smiles gleefully as she scrapes the cookies from the tray.
Bedevil turns from the door knob, and I can see tears on her cheeks. “Cookies?” she asks with trepidation.
“Cookies,” Epione repeats, a true priestess of sugar.
Bedevil floats over there. She uses her telekinesis to retrieve a small tendril-full and gives one to me.
“Thanks.” I nibble on it. Wow. These are fantastic, they melt in my mouth.
Remise sits up. “Oh, bring one t’ me!”
Another cookie floats through the air toward her. She takes it and eats it in one bite. “Oh, tha’s fookin’ amazin’.”
“I know! I found the recipe online,” Epione says. “The important part was browning the butter!”
“Oh my god,” Bedevil mutters as she chews on her cookie.
“So… we good?” I ask Drone.
Drone crosses her arms over her chest, scowls, but nods.
“Hey!” Doc shouts, running from his room. “Check the news!”
Remise grabs the remote and turns the TV on, and flips it to a news channel.
“-four different Houston teams are leading the manhunt, though all registered OPI heroes are advised to assist, which brings the total number of people hunting for Tim Prince to just over 3000 registered capes. FIS also has several squadrons of agents on the case. This will be the largest manhunt in UWC history for any non-cloak, though some are debating labeling Tim Prince as such over the events last night.”
Wow. Three thousand capes. That’s… a lot.
“They’ll find him for sure,” Epione says.
“Yeah, no doubt about that,” Remise says. “Guess we can chalk this up to a victory?”
I guess so, but something about it still rubs me the wrong way. I am pleased that everyone’s leaping on him though. It restores a bit of my faith in humanity that they immediately jump up to stop him when they find out what happened.
They should have a long time ago, but can’t exactly change that now. “Okay, that’s their problem then. We let them deal with Pandahead, and we use that distraction to get Flashfire back.” I turn to Epione. “Last night, what happened when I went back?”
“Well,” Epione says. “I was blind for a little, and when I could see again, Lugs was driving us. We decided to come here instead of my mansion, because we didn’t know if they could figure out where we were meeting from capturing Flashfire, and we had Saw Off, who was injured badly.”
Good grief, she’s talking about it like it’s not a big deal. I put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Epione smiles. “Of course. We’ll get him back. We put out the word that he’d been captured, and a whole bunch of the other masks in Houston have already responded. They want to help. We’re meeting with a few tomorrow night at the Street Devils’ hideout.”
Flashfire mentioned some Street Devils, once, but we’ve never worked with them. I wonder how many mask groups Flashfire knows.
“Iso’s looking into places they could’ve taken him,” Drone says.
“I want to talk to Maisa, while I have the time.”
Bedevil looks at me, her eyes begging me not to leave her in a room full of people she’s only truly just met. Sorry, chickita, but I need my watch.
I open the door to my room.
Saw Off is sprawled out on my bed, hard glaring at the ceiling. Her eyes, brimming with danger, lock onto me, and I get the feeling of a forest predator catching sight of their next meal. “Hello, Gabe Babe.”
Bedevil walks in behind me. “You’re not leaving me with them, I barely know them.”
“You barely know me,” I say.
She rocks her hand back and forth to say, “I sort of know you.”
Saw Off grunts and winces as she fights to her elbows. The blanket shifts down from her chest, her entire torso is wrapped in bandages. She’s not bleeding through them, so that’s good. Doc probably used the clotting gel on her. She groans as she steadies herself.
“How are you?” I ask.
Saw Off scowls. “I’ve had worse.”
“I’m… so sorry. This is all my fault,” I say. “Vaquero…”
“He’s dead. It happens.” Saw Off sniffs and looks away from me. “All the time. People die.”
From the sound of her voice, she’s not taking it very well. But I decide to let it be, since people process shit differently.
Saw Off eyes Bedevil. “You pallin’ around with my Gabe Babe?”
“I’m not your Gabe Babe,” I say. “Go back to sleep. I only came for my watch.”
“I wasn’t sleeping.” Saw Off grimaces and lays back down.
“Okay, go back to staring at the ceiling like a weirdy,” I say, retrieving my watch from my dresser.
I step out of the room, Bedevil behind me. I close the door and start up the watch. Bedevil waits near me, leaning against the wall. The others are still in the living room, discussing our next move.
Bedevil won’t meet my eyes. “So… are you and Saw Off…?” Her hands fiddle with her jacket. “I really hope I didn’t ruin anything between you and… somebody else.”
“No,” I say. “I told you I’m not seeing anybody. And if I was seeing somebody, it sure as hell wouldn’t be Saw Off.”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t even be making a deal out of it,” Bedevil says. “That’s… not my place.”
“If something bothers you, you should say something.”
“What are you going to do after you get your friend back?” Bedevil asks.
I stop fiddling with my watch. “I don’t know. Go back to busting up pimps and trying to figure out my powers.”
“You want to stay here in Houston, for the rest of your life?” she asks.
“Maisa?” I flip between the watch’s radio channels. “I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll probably die on the streets.”
Bedevil frowns. “No. You can’t. I won’t let you.”
“Gabe?” Maisa asks over the comms.
“Yes!” I say. “Maisa! Are you okay?”
“I am okay. I am here at the mansion with Lugs and Mil-dot. They’re looking for Epione’s safe.”
“Is someone else there?” Maisa asks.
“Yeah, a friend of mine. Her name is Ruby.”
Bedevil wipes her nose. “H-hey, Maisa. I’m… I’m glad to meet you.”
“I will be glad-” Maisa stops in the middle of her sentence. “Someone is outside.”
My blood runs cold. “Wh-what do you mean? Who’s outside?” Could it be heroes on our trail? FIS running Jason through the system or something?
Maisa screams. Glass shatters through the comms.
“Gabe!” Maisa shouts. “They’re-” She screams again, there’s the sound of a scuffle.
“Maisa!” I shout into the comm. At this point, Drone and Epione are staring down the hall at us.
The longest seconds of my life pass and the watch comm scratches as someone picks it up.
“Hello, Megajoule,” Tim Prince says. “I was hoping to get in touch with you again.”